The seeds of University of Richmond Downtown were sown in 2005, when the Law School's strategic plan called for developing more pro bono services. In the years since, the project has grown into a center for experiential learning, research, and community engagement.

UR Downtown, which opened in early 2009, is the new home of the Law School's family law clinic and pro bono center, as well as the Richmond Families Initiative, a program of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.

Its location in the city's cultural, government, and business center plays a key role in its mission — the downtown site is highly visible, inviting collaboration between University units and community partners representing law firms, Virginia Commonwealth University, local non-profits, and Richmond families.

Referring to the Law School's new downtown presence, Dean John G. Douglass commented, "It makes us more accessible for the people we're working with, but also I think it will be a magnet to draw the students to the downtown legal community."

The Jeanette Lipman Family Law Clinic, an extension of the Law School's National Center for Family Law, is also the school's first multidisciplinary clinic. Law students provide legal counsel to Richmond families, while students from VCU's graduate programs in social work and psychology help with client intake and assessment issues.

The Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service pairs local attorneys with law students to provide low-income families with legal services. Whether helping a client obtain a protective order or a no-fault divorce, the Carrico Center works on what director Tara Louise Casey called an "intersection of the issues," where families face a threat.

Through the pro bono center, more than a dozen UR law students are receiving training to better understand the needs of victims of domestic violence. They benefit from the current climate in the legal community, including what Casey identifies as "a larger commitment from the law firms and from individual practitioners" to fulfill the need to serve pro bono publico - "for the public good."

Undergraduate students are also finding new ways to integrate their academics with the community through UR Downtown. The Richmond Families Initiative (RFI) provides undergraduates the opportunity to work with several local non-profit organizations to support the development of stable and healthy families in the city of Richmond.

Undergraduate students engage in direct volunteer service, undertake research projects, support advocacy work on children's issues, and serve as interns. "This type of hands-on experience working with issues of critical importance to the children and families of Richmond broadens and deepens our students' overall educational experience," said RFI program manager Judy Mejia.